Monday, January 16, 2012

Missy Tippens and Her First Rejection

Missy Tippens, here. And for this Month of Firsts, I wanted to share about my first rejection. No, I’m not talking about the first boyfriend who dumped me. :) I’m talking about my first manuscript rejection, the result of the first time I braved sending my manuscript to a publisher.

Now, rest assured I had already sent the story out to contests and had endured that torture to prepare me for rejection. (The very first contest, I tied for 35th place…out of 36 entries. Yeah. Enough said about that.) :) And I even got some form rejection letters later, which were more painful. Those are the ones that come straight off the copy machine, and you can tell the letter has been copied over and over because the print is getting lighter and blurry around the edges, and there’s a lot of little stray dots of ink. They say something like:

Dear Author, we regret to inform you that this submission is not right for us at this time.


But my first true rejection actually had editor feedback. It said that my story lacked sparkle. And that the characters were cardboard.


So today, in honor of that first rejection, I thought we’d try to figure out what the editor meant and discuss how we can try to do better.


To me, this one is easier to interpret. But maybe more difficult to “fix.” Because I think sparkle means voice. It’s that certain “something” that makes your manuscript special. It’s what makes it yours and no one else’s. In my opinion, voice is something you have to discover as you write stories you love, stories that reflect your life experiences, your personality, the way you talk, the way you view life. Apparently, when I submitted that first story, I hadn’t found mine yet.

If you want to make sure your stories have that sparkle, keep writing, keep practicing.  Work on story ideas you’re excited about. Write about something that’s important to you, stories that touch you at your core. You’ll eventually find your voice, and readers will stand up and take notice.

One of my critique partners, Lindi Peterson, wrote several great stories that I enjoyed. But then she tried writing the type story she’d always loved to read—first person, funny, light-hearted romance, with people learning to rely on God. And as soon as I read it, I told her, “This is it! You’ve found your voice. This’ll be the one that sells.” That story, now titled Her Best Catch, was Lindi’s first sale. (YAY!! I’m still excited!)


Trying to figure out cardboard characters can be tough. I suppose it means they lack depth, lack emotion, lack personality, lack relatability, lack believability, lack likability. Lack…lack…lack! So many lacks! :)

So how can we avoid this problem? I’ve sat down and tried to come up with ways:

1.  Plan. Do some background work. Maybe even some sort of character interview.
     -- Figure out their family of origin, past relationships, education, friends.
     -- Figure out what they want and what motivates them (ask why, why, why?).
     --Figure out their faults and fears. Also their strengths. I can’t think of anything more cardboard than a perfect character. Except maybe a whiny, weak character.

2. Decide what type personality they have. Give them a couple of quirks that make them memorable.

3. Make them likable and sympathetic. (See my previous post on this)

4. Don’t hold back on emotion. Pour yourself into each character. One thing I see in contest entries over and over is lack of emotion. Go deep, here. Use your own hurts/fears/joy/anger/frustrations, etc. to help you imagine how your characters feel. This can be exhausting while you’re writing, but well worth it.

5. Study premise and theme (I recommend The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success by Stanley Williams) to strengthen the character arc so the story and your characters’ growth will resonate with your reader.

6. Make them active, not reactive. I had a hard time learning this (and am still learning!). Don’t just make terrible things happen to them that cause them to react. No, have them make decisions and act, doing things that put them into messes (their weaknesses you created will cause this). The struggle to get out of the mess is what readers enjoy.

7. I suspect sometimes stilted dialogue may lead to cardboard characters. Read it out loud to see if it’s conversational. But don’t try to make it like a regular conversation (no chit-chat). If dialogue is one of your growing areas, then study how your favorite writers handle it. Ask for feedback on your dialogue.

8. Use layering. It would take a whole post to discuss this. But think about how subplots and the struggles of other characters can reflect your main characters’ problems. Also, consider how your story setting can best reveal characterization.

9. Make sure your characters are not TSTL—Too Stupid To Live. Our characters need to act believably and in-character. Make sure the “person” you’ve created does things you’ve set them up to do. Of if he/she acts out of character, then make sure you’ve motivated it well. We don’t want to throw the reader out of the story (or make her throw the book against the wall).

10. You tell me! How do you create full, believable, well-rounded characters that we love?

If you’d like to be entered in my giveaway of a critique of your first 5 pages (focusing on characterization), please leave a comment and let me know to enter you!

Missy Tippens’s newest release from Love Inspired, A House Full of Hope (her favorite book yet!), is available now on! It’ll soon be available at other booksellers and can be pre-ordered now.

From black sheep to father of four...

Before becoming a Christian, Mark Ryker ran with a bad crowd and broke hearts. Including his father's. Now a successful businessman, Mark has come home to Corinthia, Georgia, to make amends. But no one will forgive him. So when the widowed mother of four renting his dad's run-down house needs help fixing up the place, Mark gets to work. Pretty Hannah Hughes and her sweet kids have him longing to be part of the clan, but Hannah isn't ready to let go of the past. Still, they are working together on a house full of hope—and that's all Mark needs.

Read an Excerpt by clicking here.


  1. Great post Missy! I'd love to be entered in the drawing. It's too late for me to think clearly let alone discuss creating well rounded characters but I'll be back in the morning. :)

  2. I'd love to have a five page critique! Enter me please. *G*

    Memorable characters- hmmm, I like them flawed and quirky. Your supporting characters can't outshine your hero and heroine. If they do you should look at your supporting characters and see what makes them shine.

    I like to know my h and h's favorite foods, colors etc. I also try to find pictures of who my characters resemble and then look on youtube to see if there are any videos of them so I can study their quirks and mannerisms.

  3. Hi Missy:

    You asked:

    “How do you create full, believable, well-rounded characters that we love?”

    I believe the key to well-rounded characters is to individualize them. Draw the character with enough unique specifics so that if a reader visited your fictional town and the character was in the doughnut shop, the reader would recognize him or her.

    That’s it. The character does not have to be likeable or loved. The character only needs to be recognizable as a human and not just a place holder. As such the well-rounded character is not interchangeable with other characters.

    As for sparkles I see them in copywriting terms. That is, saying something in a new and/or exciting way. In a way, a sparkle wakes the reader up and makes the reader actually notice what the writer is saying. Sparkles can be added to any voice.

    Sparkles brighten dark words, enliven tired words, lighten heavy words, smooth jagged words, encourage discouraging words and show clichés a newer way to have their say.


  4. Pull up a chair and have cuppa java. There's plenty to go around.

    Thanks for the tips, Missy.


  5. I'd love to be in the drawing for... whatever it is we're drawing for. Books, crits, chocolate.

    I'm bleary. Too late plus a very rough weekend.

    Prayers appreciated. FIL had a stroke yesterday [Sat] while on vacation in Hawaii. The last email from about an hour ago seems more positive. Still going to be a long road to recovery [and may never be FULL recovery] but the prognosis this evening seems better than we were expecting based on the phone calls/emails yesterday. Friends are traveling with them so step-MIL isn't alone either. Not sure when he'll be able to go home though [scheduled for Friday originally...]

    Anyway - I'm off to bed. But I'll think on this while I'm sleeping. Or dream of it rather ;).

    And thanks to Missy - cuz I think you were the one who helped me realize I'd found my voice. :D

  6. Carol! I'm so sorry to hear that and we're praying for your FIL!

    Missy, this was such a good post, I have to print it out and read it again. So many things to mull and tweak! (Just reminded me of Dumbledore's few words before the feast... Potter fans will get that.)

    I was really trying not to make my characters predictable or 'too prefect' or 'too mean', etc. I was reading a favorite author and she wrote several times, in first POV, how the MC is surprised... by her own feelings, or couldn't even nail them down.

    I realized that we don't always know what we're feeling, and neither should every character. Sometimes we're really confused by the big mix of emotions, sometimes even contradictory ones.

    That was my chracter breakthrough late last year!

  7. I enjoyed reading your post and I won Lindi's book and have it here to read.
    I think a few of the books I have read in the past month or so have had a bit of the cardboard characters. They did improve as the book went on but the beginning of the took was made me take a little longer to really feel for them.
    Its like in one book where when the POV changes the author tends to re hash things that were already established like a rehash on a soap opera. but it was happening almost every chapter and drove me mad.
    I have read some characters that I really wanted to slap or knock some sense into which is probably good as it evoked strong emotion. The last one like this the heroine did when she blew her top and told him some home truths.

  8. Morning Missy,
    Thanks for sharing today. You gave me some great things to think about.

    I enjoy writing suspense, and I'm wondering now if I've done too much reacting vs. acting.

    I'm not published, but so far I've tried to make my characters take charge of their lives. I've also tried to instill a sense of humor in them.
    I've also started picking pictures out of magazines and catalogs to remember physical traits.
    I'd love to be entered in your 5 page critique. Thanks for the offer and thanks for posting today.
    Jackie Layton

  9. Carol,
    I'm praying for your FIL and your family.

  10. Finished House Full of Hope yesterday! One of the things I loved the best about this book was I constantly thought how real the situations seemed. It is one of the most realistic prodigal son stories I have read.

    The heroine has that "yep, I have been there" quality I really enjoyed. There must be an opposite of TSTL. To Real Not to be Based on Fact?

    Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle! You got it! More than that you have perseverance! And apparently I have a case of the exclamation points!!!

    Carol, praying for your family.

    Peace, Julie

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Missy, I don't know what I love more, this excellent post OR THAT COVER WITH KIDS AND A DOG.....


    How stinkin' cute is that? And I'm charmed by the set-up, the emotional ties of father and son, and the sweet widow with four kids.

    Be. Still. My. Heart.

    Awesome, chica.

    Vince, I love your take on "Sparkle"... I think it's similar to the reader rewards because it evokes a reaction in the reader.

    Christina, I agree... flaws. Like us, only they're smart enough to fix 'em, LOL!

    Carol, I'm so sorry to hear about your father-in-law's stroke. God be with him, and keep them. It's so hard when tough things strike so far from home. Praying for you and for his steady recovery. And Hawaii's expensive... How will your step-mom-in-law bear up with money? I know that can be a huge problem when you get sick while traveling.

    Hugging you from upstate.

  13. Hi Missy!

    Lacks sparkle is a hard one because it's so subjective but I do think that you nailed it. It's voice and your unique way to describe everything in your manuscript.

    Great post!

  14. LOL, Jamie! I know what you mean--and it's even morning for me. :) Waiting while my coffee is dripping. I'll be human soon... :)

  15. Christina, great point! Don't let those secondaries take over!

  16. Vince, I like your take on sparkle! So it's new and exciting, something we could add to any voice.

    I guess that would involve putting a twist on an old plot idea. And like you said, saying things in a way that's unique to the writer. Of course, in a way, that's voice. Voice is so hard to describe! :)

  17. Thanks, Helen! I appreciate the cup of coffee!

  18. Carol, I'm so sorry about your FIL!! How stressful to have them so far away from home. Will be praying for him.

    Yes! I remember noticing your humor on your blog (and on here) and mentioning that I was just sure you would write funny fiction. :)

  19. Virginia, that's a great point! Yes, we can show them confused or misinterpreting what they're feeling. And another thing I love is subtext. They say one thing or try to themselves one thing, but we know they're really feeling another and either don't realize it yet or are in denial. That's so fun!

  20. Jenny, I'm with you. I go crazy with repetition--rehashing the same things over and over again. It's something I try to be very careful to watch for (because I can tend to do it in a first draft!)

  21. Jackie, it's tough, because we want to throw things at our characters. Suspense is probably a little different. Maybe someone who writes it can comment on that.

    I think the main thing is to have your POV character have a goal at the beginning of the scene. Then she's acting to get that goal. Of course, your villain might come along and throw off that goal. Then your POV character has to fight him or escape or whatever. Then she has to figure out how she's going to act next (the sequel).

  22. Julie, THANK YOU!!! You just made my day!! :) I'm so glad you liked it. (can y'all see my big stupid grin??!)

    Yes, perseverance is big! We have to just stay stubborn and not give up. And keep practicing until we get better. We can all get better! Always.

  23. Good morning, Ruthy! Yes, didn't they do a great job with the cover?! I love it. And in person, that green is just as fresh and bright.

  24. Missy, you're so sweet. I loved how you talked about dialogue as a "growing area" rather than something we stink at. ;)

    Thanks for all the ideas on how to achieve sparkle. I'm about to dive into rewrites so I'll keep your list handy.

    Carol, glad the news is better, but I'll still keep everyone in my prayers.

  25. Rose, thank you! You're sweet to say that.

    I think on the first couple of manuscripts I wrote I was trying to sound like every other book I had read. And of course, that's impossible, because they're all different! But I think I was shooting for that. Which is a perfectly normal thing to do. That's why keeping moving, starting new books and not working the same ones, is important.

  26. Mary C, I honestly believe we can improve in any area. So yeah, never give up just because you think you'll never get good at something. Believe me, I know how tempting it is. We can all study and battle through on our weaknesses!

    Y'ALL!! Mary has posted an amazing recipe today on the Yankee-Belle Cafe!! Please stop by to chat. You'll want to print this one and make it! Yum. (like is in the side-bar)

  27. Morning Missy, What a great post. That rejection letter brought back way too many memories. LOL

    Cardboard characters? What are they talking about? You did a great job describing what that meant. I so wish I'd known you back then. smile

    Its always so fun to look back. Hindsight is wonderful. But we all have to grow through this learning process to become the writers we want to be. Wish it was easier.

    I'm with Ruthy, love that cover.

    Carol, praying for your family.

    Thanks again Missy.

  28. Thanks for the Yankee Belle plug, Missy.

    I have to agree with Ruthy and Sandra about the cover but I've got the dog and kids - I want that house!

  29. This is wonderful information, Missy!

    That 'active not reactive' point really struck a chord with me. It's so much easier to write reactive, isn't it? Well, at least it is for me!

    I've gone from writing fanfiction (where my readers already know most of the characters) to original fiction and the biggest learning curve has been the character development. I'd love for my name to be put in for the critique giveaway. :-)

  30. First, I love your book cover!

    Your timing on this is perfect. I tend to struggle w/my characters now more than ever.

    My first ms, I created two people w/distinct goals/flaws and began to write. The plot unfolded around them. I didn't have to try. All of my following wip's, I came up w/the story idea first. I know where they're headed and what they're supposed to do, but they can't have a conversation w/out it feeling forced. Cardboard. I tend to throw in action scenes to cover up the lack of personalities and it doesn't work.

    Even good action doesn't make a reader keep reading if she doesn't like the characters.

    CAROL, I'm sorry to hear about your FIL.

  31. Great post, Tina! The wonderful thing about being a writer is that there are always new things to practice, to learn, to improve on. That's one of the joys of writing. You can always be growing. There may be some people who are just born knowing everything about storytelling, character, voice, the writing craft, etc., but I'd say the vast majority of us learn as we go. Sometimes we take two steps forward and one step back and have to RElearn things as well. It's a constant, ongoing process with each new book.

  32. CAROL - So sorry to hear of your FIL's stroke -- praying he'll have a safe return home and that treatments/therapy will help the situation.

  33. I have NO idea why I wrote "Tina" -- must have to do with the lingering cold I'm just now getting over, MISSY!

  34. Sandra, you're so right! It's definitely a learning and growing process. Painful at times!!! Kind of like dating and falling in love. LOL

  35. LOL, Mary! I love the house, too. :)

  36. Kav, I think it is easier to have them react. We hear that we're supposed to throw all kinds of terrible things at our characters. When what we really need to do is have them get themselves in trouble by acting on old habits and ways of thinking. Then they learn through the story and act differently by the end--making good choices that lead to a happy/satisfying ending. :)

  37. Connie, thanks for sharing about your experience. It's so difficult to decide where to start--with a premise, with the characters, with some nugget of plot?

    Your writing isn't wasted, though. I suspect you've figured out you need to always start with your characters. :)

  38. Glynna, I totally understand that cold/cold medicine induced state! :) I'm so thankful that I'm all well now. Had been sick since New Year's Eve. (Yep, started sneezing during our big Seekerville party!)

  39. Morning Missy! That first rejection brings us down to earth fast, doesn't it? The place we need to be if we expect to make it in this business.

    Your post is a terrific. Loads of great tips on fleshing out characters! I'm printing it to refer to later.

    The details the character notices, the thoughts they have, the struggles they go through will tug at readers' heartstrings when those issues feel real. Then our readers will care. We writers need to do that first. Before we can, we must know our characters inside and out. When I'm struggling with plot, I usually need to know more about my characters. How they'd react. What their motivations are. Whether you let the plot determine how the characters will act or let the characters determine the plot is a matter of how we write. But without great multi-dimensional characters our stories won't deliver an emotional read.


  40. Glynna, so true! Wish I could remember to do all I've learned!


  41. Carol M, praying for your FIL. We were at brunch in a restaurant yesterday and a woman had a stroke in the next room. I'm praying for her too. From what I've heard quick treatment makes all the difference in the outcome.


  42. You have perfect timing with your post, Missy! I received my scores from the Pheonix Rattler this morning - not a final, but I'm happy with most of the scores.

    I'll read through the comments when it isn't Monday morning :)

    Let's see, full, believable, well-rounded characters that we love?

    My favorite characters have something worthwhile they care about - something that takes them outside of their own, safe world and makes them step up and show their true selves. When that happens, I can cheer them on, even if I don't have anything else in common with them.

    Sorry to hear about your FIL Carol! I'll be praying.

  43. Carol, so sorry to hear about your Father in Law. I'm praying for healing.

    Missy, thank you so much for sharing your story! I think sometimes aspiring authors see the final product, and they don't realize the years of work and rejection that went into the making of so many fabulous authors!

    My first harlequin rejection was a form letter, the second was *practically* personalized. (An unsigned letter urging me to add more internal conflict and try again with another project.)

    I took those words to heart.

    The third contact with a *new project* and more internal conflict, was a phone call. And I'm still struggling with the 'reactive' thing too.

  44. Good morning, Janet! So scary about the woman having a stroke at the brunch! We saw someone choke at a restaurant a couple of years ago. Someone else at the table jumped up and did the Heimlich, and the piece of food shot out. We were all standing there hardly breathing through it all. Very frightening.

  45. Jan, I'm sorry you didn't final. But it's so helpful to get some good feedback! Of course, like you said, it might not be something we want to read on Monday morning. ;)

    I love that you pointed out we root for someone who's stepping up, out of their comfort zone. We love to see characters do things we wouldn't have the nerve to do. :)

  46. Sherri, thanks for pointing out that we have to follow up! If an editor suggests changes, we should seriously consider taking the advice. That's how I made my first sale, too!

  47. Great post! My first real rejection letter said that the writing wasn't strong enough. I still don't know what that means exactly, but I'm sure she was right. :)

  48. Good Morning Missy, you have a lot of good advise here but as a reader and not a writer, I only know that I want to read the ones that I am there -feeling what they feel and crying when they cry, a book that I can see exactly where the characters are and want to turn the next page quickly to see what is going to happen next.
    thanks for sharing today and sure hope I am winner of your book. thanks for the coffee sure needed it today..
    Paula O(

  49. Making characters sparkle.

    This is so hard to define, but then isn't all of 'how to write' hard to define? That's why, 4 1/2 years in we can still talk about the craft of writing here on Seekerville. And of course also, it's FUN to talk writing if you're a writer, especially since no one wants to talk about it with you...except other writers.'s humor. It's emotion of any kind, like you said, Missy. It's the five senses. A passing mention of the smell of hot melting chocolate just DRAGS the reader in because they know what that means.
    The sound of tire trucks on gravel...the reader is HEARING IT. And if their senses are engaged then they've been pulled more deeply into the story.

    Making a character likable....I think that gets so tricky because we want STRONG personalities. Especially you want (or rather I want) strong women. But it's so easy to make STRONG into abrasive and just unpleasant. So it all comes down to balance.

  50. And as for rejection...I once got a red STAMP rejection.

    I could just HEAR the THUD of her smacking that page. I wasn't worth a cheaply copied form rejection.

  51. Wow, Sherri. You got a phone call rejection on your third submission?

    I had this thick envelope full of them. After I got published I burned it and danced around the flames. (that's fiction, my husband won't let me near any matches...this is based on an unfortunate incident involving our machine shed and an over-full trash barrell)

  52. ps the machine shed did NOT burn down. Only almost.

  53. Missy, what a great post! I love how you turned your rejection into a learning lesson for us. :) I learned lots--both what I'm doing right, and where I need to improve--from what you wrote today.

    I have a question for you. How do you develop quirks for your characters? I'm having a hard time with this.

    Also, I would love to be entered for five page critique. :) Thanks!

    I'm hoping to get back over here later today and read comments. :)

  54. Really great post, Missy! I think you covered just about everything when it comes to creating great characters! At least, I can't think of anything else. I need to read this again when I start my edits! :-)

    I am reading through For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn to try and give my current hero some depth and to figure out what he's thinking, and to create more conflict between him and the heroine. It seems to be working! Only, I have to be careful I don't end up not liking my hero!!! LOL

  55. Men are not always likeable, and it doesn't always help to know how they think, because I don't understand them even when I understand them. You know?

    Sigh. Writing romance is complicated, but not as complicated as being married.

  56. Missy, your new book sounds wonderful and the cover is too sweet.

    That 15 year emblem was cool too. Hard to believe LI is celebrating 15 years.

  57. Hello, writing romance is fiction.

    If the men misbehave we simply increase the pain.

  58. Hi Missy,

    Wonderful post! I need this advice since my heroes are usually good, but my heroines are all kinda the same! LOL.

    I just finished Deeanne Gist's "Love on the Line" and her heroine, Georgie, is a great example. She's a telephone operator (which is unusual for the time) and an avid bird lover. This character trait makes her very interesting. Add to that, the hero is a bird hunter and watch the sparks fly!

    Please enter me in the draw!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  59. Carol,

    So sorry about your FIL. My mom had a stroke in July and I know how hard that is. I can't imagine him being so far away. Hope they can get home soon!


  60. Hi, Julie J! "The writing isn't strong enough" is a tough one. I'd suggest finding a critique partner or group and having them help try to figure it out.

    This can be a confusing business!

  61. Pol, it certainly helps us to hear from readers! Sounds like you want to care enough about the character to care what happens to her. I love getting that involved in a character! That's the type story that I had to have end. And the characters stay in my mind long after I close the book. Love those!

  62. Helen, thank you! It's actually this coming Saturday. :)

  63. #6 is a HUGE one for me and I really didn't know that on a first-hand level until I read this. Definitely gives me something great to think about this week in my writing. Thank you Missy!

    (and I'd love to be entered, please. :))

  64. Mary, thanks for the reminder to include the 5 senses for sparkle. I don't think I mentioned that!

    A rejection stamp?? Oh no! And see, you used the 5 senses describing that stamp, and I'm feeling your pain even more! Perfect example!

  65. Mary, did you really shred your rejection letters??!! LOL

  66. Jeanne T., the quirks are sometimes difficult for me. I like to consider several things:

    Personality quirks (like cleaning all the time for a perfectionist or laughing when nervous)

    Visual quirks--something that'll be helpful for a reader to visualize the character (like tugging on an earring when nervous)

    Talking or thinking in a certain way (like my brainiac physicist who used science words in his thoughts)

    I'm drawing a blank now. Maybe others can chime in.

  67. Missy, I love your statement, "Yes, perseverance is big! We have to just stay stubborn and not give up. And keep practicing until we get better. We can all get better! Always."

    Like Jan said, this post was what I needed today. I got my scores in from the Phoenix Rattler (first contest) last night and eagerly devoured the comments, being the little Southern optimist that I am, only to cry my eyes red afterwards at their dead-on accuracy for spotting the areas in which I need to improve. :) The judges seemed to agree most on two little (or not so little) points. You guessed it--voice and believability of characters.

    Now I'm deciding whether to set this story aside--all 53,398 words, lol--and start on a new one, or work through to "the end", using the rest of the plot as training ground. When you said, "That's why keeping moving, starting new books and not working the same ones, is important," do you mean working two at a time or dumping the first story in the "Fail" folder and starting from scratch?? :D Would love your input, 'cause that's right where I'm at.

    Aww! Your cover with the kids and the dog brings back memories of me and my siblings. So sweet. :)

  68. Praying for your father-in-law, Carol, and asking God's grace for your whole family during this time.

  69. I love your stories. Thanks for the ideas. I do have trouble with my characterization. Especially the part about the dialogue. Sometimes I wonder if it's realistic enough or not. I'd love to be entered in your giveaway and get any feedback. Thanks.

  70. Tina, you made me laugh with this one - "If the men misbehave we simply increase the pain."

    Oh yes, PUSH that pain to the limit!

    Of course, to be fair, we have to do that to our heroines, too.

    I'm still trying to get a handle on the MC in my new book - I wrestled with her before Christmas, took a couple months off to work on revisions for a different book, and here I am wrestling with her again.

    She just doesn't want anything I want. She's being snarky, independent, and feeling a little sorry for herself.

    So I changed her name and gave her a new story.

    I think it's the name that did it.

    I named her Ruthy, and now she's happy.

    Mary Connealy, even if you didn't burn down the machine shed, I have a feeling it ended up on the short end of that deal.

    Natalie - I still haven't gotten brave enough to look at my comments from the Rattler. Only my scores. Two judges scored me high enough that I might have finalled, but the third one was consistently 3-4 points lower in every category.

    If I hadn't been warned that would happen in an earlier Seekerville post, that score sheet would have been painful to read. It'll be interesting to read the comments from that one.

    And Missy - I forgot to ask to be entered in the drawing! Please do that for me!

  71. WOW, MISSY, what a GREAT post!!! A definite keeper, my friend, and a workshop unto itself!!

    You said: "The very first contest, I tied for 35th place…out of 36 entries."

    LOL!!! Can hardly believe that reading your books today, but that is just a testimony how contests can open our eyes and force us to improve until WE open the judge's eyes.

    I didn't final in the first seven contests I entered, so I went over the judge's comments with a fine-tooth comb and prayed about each one, whether to use or lose it. Once I did that, I was SHOCKED to discover I started finaling in the next seven contests I entered!! So word of wisdom to all writers out there -- pay close attention to judge's comments, especially if their repeated by several and pray about what to take away from it, then IMPLEMENT!!

    Everybody gets rejections. It's what we do with them and after them that matters the most.


  72. Melanie, that's a fine line. LOL We want them likable, but we don't want them to be too much like our women. :) We want them... Tough but kind. Strong but tender. Sure but not bull-headed or cocky. Sexy and masculine but not too intimidating or cave-mannish.

    Poor guys. We expect a lot from those heros, don't we? :)

  73. Aha. Tina has the secret. We can make them perfect because it's fiction.


    And yes, Tina! I love that it's been 15 years!!

  74. Sue, it's difficult not to make our heroines like us each time! So we sometimes have to work even harder on them. That's where quirks can come in handy. Give them something you'd never have.

    I'm working on one right now, and I think she's going to speak her mind--which I would never ever do!! It'll be fun to live vicariously. And it'll also get her into trouble in the plot, I suspect. Fun!

  75. Ah Vince

    Sparkles brighten dark words, enliven tired words, lighten heavy words, smooth jagged words, encourage discouraging words and show clichés a newer way to have their say.

    You add the sparkles to our lives!

    Missy, please enter me also! Thanks! may at maythek9spy dot com

  76. I laughed SO HARD at TSTL :-p

    I have discovered that I write the hero so much easier than the heroine and that's going to factor into this brand of mine eventually, I'm sure. Vince's recent post indicating that most authentic male behavior is unattractive to females is something that really resonates with me but part of how I write my heroes so well. I put it in. Not so much the random scratch or pretend not to hear something, but the overlong glance at a beautiful woman while standing next to the one he's in love with or stalling to avoid that "we need to talk" proclamation by the heroine. I also think it's possible to have a strong heroine who has raging insecurity issues. She's so strong because she's trying to win her own approval and if you take that motivation and allow it to color every aspect of her presence on the page through dialogue, narrative, internal monologue and behavior, no more flat character!
    At least I hope so.
    When my characters are developing, I'm like a little kid, asking why, why, why over and over until I've peeled that onion all the way down and there they are.

    Okay, back to laughing about too stupid to live and the WIP. Which I would LOVE a critique on, so please enter me.

    nancykimball at hotmail dot com

  77. Natalie, I don't mean quitting before finishing one. I'm talking about avoiding taking the same first five chapters and fixing them over and over after getting contest feedback for two or three years (and 14 contests). :)

    I'd suggest finishing yours. Then polishing using all you've learned in the contest. Then get a critique partner or group. They can help you figure out when it's ready to submit. And then, submit and move on to the next one.

    I imagine it's rare for someone to sell their first or even second manuscript. We learn and get better by doing.

  78. By the way, Natalie, one of the contests I cried most about was a terribly tough critique where I KNEW the author was right. It was more painful than all the crazy, strange or mean comments I'd had in the past. Because I knew it was true, and that I had a lot of work ahead of me.

  79. Casey, I'm glad that one was helpful for you. Like I said, I'm still working on it! Especially since I do more character driven stories.

  80. Got my Rattler entries back last night too. Two were really pretty good. One was okay. The fourth ripped me to shreds. I should have known better than to open them last night given all the other drama [the real kind not the made up or just because kind] and stress from this weekend. I bawled my eyes out. I have to remind myself that 2 people really liked it and THEY were in agreement but this other one wasn't.

    Anyway... I'm gonna reread this when I can really concentrate on it, Missy. I'm trying to chip away at my word count today - rereading it later may make me cry just as hard as the scores yesterday ;).

    DH talked to his stepmom a little bit ago and even to his dad for a minute. Said his dad [a notorious mumbler - I haven't understood him in years] was actually easier to understand than normal. They're hopeful about going home Friday as planned but not sure yet. They have a wonderful set of neighbors who are already working on making necessary arrangements [such as a bed on the main floor etc] for when FIL gets home. They're talking about a rehab facility for a week or so but nothing's certain yet.

    Thank you so much for all your prayers. My BFF and her hubby are planning to come over later. Just because they love us and to hang out a bit. Not because there's anything they could do except be here, but am so very glad they're going to.

    Love to you all. Thank you!

  81. Natalie,
    I got my Rattler scores last night too. If it makes you feel any better, I also cried. I lost the tie-breaker for third place by five points. I know it's completely irrational but I would rather have been like, tenth than fourth. Seriously. But my feedback was fantastic and truthfully wasn't any big surprise.
    - constant misuse of commas
    - confusing the reader by introducing a character in dialogue who isn't in the scene
    - (This one I didn't see coming but was the most helpful) Unclear motivation / goal for my hero

    The better news is tomorrow I can start fixing it. =)

    My advice is push on to the end and finish the book. Best wishes!

  82. Cynthia, the good thing is that dialogue is a pretty easy fix! Like I said, try reading it out loud. Although I don't usually do this (for some reason it drives me crazy), I've heard a lot of people do. They even get programs on the computer that read it.

    I tend to write dialogue and internal thought (and make paragraph breaks) with a rhythm that feels natural to me. Reading out loud doesn't help me on that. It's almost a visual thing. (I know. I'm weird.) :)

    But I do have to watch out for chit chat and dialogue that doesn't move the plot forward. That's my weakest area in dialogue.

  83. Great pointers, Missy! Rejections can teach us a lot, if only we're receptive to the lessons.

    I can't remember my first rejection--yes, it was THAT long ago! But one memorable rejection that I definitely did NOT learn anything from was a manuscript that came back with no form letter or note of any kind.

    Just a big, red REJECTED stamped across my cover page.

    Good grief.

  84. Jan!! LOL! So snarky Ruthy was trying to have her own story in your head? I love it. :)

    I'm sorry about the lower scores. That's so frustrating to feel like you were so close.

  85. Mary mentioned a machine SHED??? I thought she'd misspelled and was talking about a shredder. Need to go back and look again. LOL

  86. Hey, Julie! It's amazing how much we can learn from contests. Good for you for working so hard!

    I didn't enter another contest after my terrible showing for a long time. But I got asked to join a critique group. I worked with them for months. Entered another contest. And finaled. Oh, and won! It was the Laurie. Such a thrill. I'm so thankful that my critique group was tough on me.

  87. KC, I agree about Vince's words. They had a sparkle of their own!

  88. Nancy, now I'm laughing hard at the random scratch!!! Our poor male readers. :)

    You did a great description of what we need to do with our characters! Thanks for adding to the discussion!

  89. Carol, I'm so glad you and your inlaws have so much wonderful support!

    Good luck with the word count!! You're doing great on that.

  90. Oh, Myra. Ouch! You have something similar to Mary. The big stamp. I hope they're not doing that anymore. Too painful and impersonal.

  91. Thanks so much for this info. Attacking the WIP and this will be a help. :)

  92. P.S. Would love to be entered in the giveaway! Thanks a bunch!


  93. Hi Missy! I would love to be entered in the giveaway! I've been told my first rejection letter was very nice. The editor said she loved the premise, but couldn't take on another Ancient Rome-themed novel since others hadn't done well. In fact, that's what most of my rejection letters say -- "its not the project we're looking for". How many rejection letters should I suffer before thinking that something is wrong with my manuscript or query letter?

  94. Oh goodness, Missy, that's a really exhaustive list. If someone asked me how to make characters sparkle, I'd respond with some brilliant comment like "Make them real."

    And how does one make characters real, you ask? LOL! I'd have no clue. Glad you understand it.

  95. Gwendolyn, don't give up! And don't assume something is wrong with your manuscript. It sounds like a timing issue, which you can't help. The market is changing all the time. I would suggest keeping on writing. Eventually you'll have one that hits with perfect timing, and then when they ask what else you have written, your Roman story will be ready to go! :) (Of course, that's after you've exhausted all publishers. Don't give up after just one or two publishers. Your story may find a home.)

  96. LOL, Naomi. Some of that is from hard-learned experience. Some is just me trying to make my best guess at what I think will help improve my characters. :)

    Saying to make them real might be all someone needs to hear!

  97. Carol, I'm so sorry to hear about your FIL. I will be praying for your family today.

  98. Melanie, I've read For Women Only. It's a GREAT book for understanding men better. :) I hadn't thought to use it to develop my hero more. Thanks for that tip. :)

  99. Wonderful tips :) I always think it's incredibly hard to keep a character in character! So they either are out of character too much or are boring. Thanks for the great tips :)

  100. Missy,
    Great tips! I LOVE Lindi's book, Her Best Catch. She has such a great voice! This was a great post and I'd love to be entered.

  101. Faye, yes it is difficult because we get to know them better as we write. Plus, they do change! They just can't change to much. :)

    Ciara, thanks for stopping by!

  102. Loved your post, Missy! I think voice happens when you write the way you think and you talk. Maeve Binchy is a great example of that.

    It's also important to edit yourself without losing your voice. I think it's an art. And don't let your crit partners do it either!

  103. Great points to remember, Missy. No matter how long we've been writing.

    << Don’t hold back on emotion. Pour yourself into each character. One thing I see in contest entries over and over is lack of emotion. Go deep, here. Use your own hurts/fears/joy/anger/frustrations, etc. to help you imagine how your characters feel. This can be exhausting while you’re writing, but well worth it.>>

    If there's one thing I tend to see most often in contest entries, its the lack of emotion or some placid representation of it. No one likes reading about milquetoast characters, especially when it's so easy to zip them up.

    Well, maybe not EASY, but as romantic fiction writers, we're all equipped with the tears, laughs and drama to make it happen.

    Too many great stories, plot lines, concepts have left me wishing the author knew anger and how to throw a great tantrum.

    Heck, I do it all the time and not always for my characters' benefit : )

    Missy dear, it's hard to believe you'd tie for 35th out of 36 for anything. You're a wonder on the written page now!!

  104. Oh my stars, I have been working all day and look at the crowd!!!!



    Not that I ever for one single solitary minute thought otherwise. Of course. ;)

    Hey, we did not bake today. But in lieu of that, I've got two boxes of Russel Stovers chocolates to put on the table instead of on my waistline.


    Save me from myself.

  105. I love this, Missy. I’ve gotten some of those “form” rejections myself. This is a great reminder to make characters as unique as people are, which can be difficult at time!

    Yes, I want to be entered in the 5-page critique!


  106. Hey, Cara! Yeah, editing ourselves is so hard! Especially when we get so familiar with the story we could just about repeat it verbatim!

  107. Audra, I've always loved that word: milquetoast. Never fails to make me picture a piece of soggy bread that's been dipped in milk. :) Although I just looked it up, and it comes from a cartoon character.

    Ruthy, dear!! I forgot food!! How could you let me??! These poor people must be starving.

    I'm about to head to the Yankee-Belle cafe to get your/Ree's recipe for the apple dumplings (made with Mt. Dew). I have a craving for dessert! My daughter keeps asking, "Are you making them yet??"

    Anyone want to join me? Here's a link:

  108. Whitney, if it were easy, I guess we wouldn't have all met here on the blog! :) I'm glad you dropped by.

  109. Carol, I am SO sorry to hear about your FIL, my friend. Saying one for him right now AND your family!


  110. I'm checking in late today, but wow Missy did you ever give a lot of knowledge to be digested, thanks! I'll need to reread this for sure!

  111. It's late and I haven't read very many of the comments. :)

    Has anyone talked about dialogue? I like it when I can tell the character by their word choice and other factors.
    I don't like dialect that is hard to understand. I just like it when everyone doesn't talk the same and you can identify characters from reading the dialogue.

    I would love to win a critique.


  112. Thank you, Jan! Your encouragement means a lot! Best of luck with your ms!

    Missy, thank you for urging me to not give up! You're right. The hardest feedback was in the area I knew would require a LOT of work to fix.

    Nancy, thank you so much. I don't feel as wimpy for crying now. I'll take your advice and plow through to the end. :)

    Carol, hearing your experience with your contest results helped. Praying your father-in-law will get good news about going home.

  113. You just can't beat Seekerville for writerly encouragement. :)

  114. Loved this post, Missy. I can relate. I'd love to talk about well rounded characters because I know I have some of the cardboard kind. Enter me in the drawing - thanks!

  115. Thanks to all you who stopped by after I got off the computer last night. PLL was calling. :)

    (For those who don't have teen daughters to drag you to PLL, it's Pretty Little Liars. Such a fun show!)

  116. Missy;
    I love this post.
    So good to know how you've dealt with disappointment and moved on.
    Also - the cardboard character analogy is terrific!!
    Can't wait to get my hands on the new book.
    I didn't post this to enter the drawing but if I'm a winner - I won't refuse it. ';D